Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Information Feed & Michelle West's THE HIDDEN CITY

For my review column, ( http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ ) I'm going to review Michelle West's fantasy opus THE HIDDEN CITY with as much enthusiasm and I think maybe more enthusiasm than I did her first 2 novels in this Universe, HUNTER'S OATH and HUNTER'S DEATH.

For my review of HUNTER'S OATH and HUNTER'S DEATH see my September 1996 review column:
Unfortunately, West didn't use the "Pope In The Pool" technique from Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT series. The stageplay device of the "bomb under the chair" technique would have livened up the info-dump, too.

During this post-halfway point several times the viewpoint drifts (for no reason other than information feed -- which makes those drifts a massive flaw). Prior to that we had a nicely selected 2-point-of-view narrative that cut down on the background the reader needed to know, but then struggling with that information feed problem of this huge and complex universe, she finally had to TELL US. But by then, we were curious enough to listen to what she told us.

I have no idea what I'll be saying about this book. But here's advance warning -- this is a book you don't want to miss. It is Intimate Adventure -- and not Romance (at least so far).

In spite of any weak points -- probably caused by a word-limit that required slicing and dicing the plot -- this is a gripping, readable, breezy, LONG book that you don't mind setting down because you will enjoy being drawn back to it. The hardcover is large and my hands get tired holding it! (who says reading isn't a physical exercise!)

But if you're struggling with writing the information feed for a large and complicated universe, you'd do well to study THE HIDDEN CITY because it shows you both how to do really great information feed -- and what happens when you just have to fudge a little to make everything fit. It also shows you where in the story to make your fudge-and-patch back-and-fill shuffle without throwing the reader out of the story.

In West's HIDDEN CITY universe, magic is practiced by those with certain talents. You are born with the ability to do this or that type of magic, and if not formally trained you might be a big danger to yourself and others. The most fascinating of the Talented to me are the Makers whose art and utilitarian objects exceed all design specifications.

THE HIDDEN CITY is the first in a new series called THE HOUSE WAR, set in the same universe as her previous novels.

HIDDEN CITY kicks off with an immediately engrossing introduction to the characters, and though the book is over 600 pages (thick) with decent sized print densely packed, the story zips right along.

The two main characters are a 10 year old girl with a fascinating backstory, and a scavenger guy who is an adult with a mysterious and mixed past, very chequered.

The girl has certain character traits that endear her to me -- compassion, generosity (she's starving and has no clothes against the coming winter, but gives charity lavashly), and a non-confrontational spirit. She doesn't challenge the world like Anita Blake, but she doesn't obey orders either and isn't afraid.

The guy wants to be the opposite kind of person, alone, selfish, independent, not necessarily on the easy side of the law. He wants to be -- but something in this kid ignites the other part of himself he really wishes wasn't there.

The way West handles revealing all the information of this complex, deep and broad universe with these two difficult, nuanced, living-breathing and changing characters is positively DELIGHTFUL. It's so good that even when you finally get to the expository lump disguised as dialogue, you don't CARE. You really want to learn what you are being told.

So if you want an example of the end result of applying the method I sketched in last week's blog entry ( http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ ) try THE HIDDEN CITY.

Oh, and it doesn't lean on the previous books in this universe. All the information you need about the universe is "fed" to you in this volume. (quite a trick, let me tell you!)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg



  1. Cool stuff, Jacqueline.

    Could you blog about story structure for stories with multiple protagonists next time please? Practically everything I read is one or two protagonists, but I tend to write in Threes.

    And did Linnea get sucked down a transdimensional vortex somewhere?

  2. I've no idea where Linnea was this week. I had figured that (as seems to be a tradition lately) whatever she had to say would be a springboard into what I wanted to tell people about Michelle West.

    I made a note to do the essay on 3 protagonist structures. There is a trick to it that's pretty simple to do but infernally difficult to explain.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. Thank you so much! I'm so looking forward to reading it!